Tuesday, March 03, 2015

What One Fool Can Do...

One of the joys of bicycle touring, is not only the ability to travel independently to experience the sights, sounds, smells and the totality of the landscape, but also the mind is free to roam. At times like this, I make connections among ideas, and even think that I have discovered some profound insights. Alas, like waking from a dream, some of these ideas may make little or no sense in the cold light of day.

I recently read the book, "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed, a story about a young woman's terribly grueling tale of hiking solo 1,700 kms of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), with no prior experience or training in backpacking. At the end of her journey, she meets someone who expresses an interest in doing the same hike, and she says "You could. You should. Believe me, if I can do this, anyone can". Having read about her ordeals, I was struck by the fact that, I am sure I could not do what she did, nor do I feel that I should and am highly unlikely to even attempt, anything remotely as demanding as hiking the PCT. Maybe?

Then I paused as I considered that over the last 20 years, Alison and I have toured on bicycles, more than a dozen of the countries in south-east Asia, and are now on our longest trip, the fourth in India, four months and about 4,000 kms, which most people would consider challenging under the best of circumstances, let alone, independently on bicycles. Still, I cannot help thinking that since we learn to ride a bike at the age of five or so, and riding a bike is something we never forget, that with a bit of practice and training, most would be able to what we do: travel on two wheels, in a foreign land, with comparative ease.

The second incidence I have been reflecting on is a comment a British tourist made, while we were having lunch, in a lovely hotel restaurant. She wanted fresh orange juice, and the waiter unsure of the requirements, came back with a tetra pack of processed orange juice, to which the tourist, quite exasperated exclaimed, "why is there no fresh orange juice?" At this point Alison went to our nearby room and offered her some of our oranges, to which she responded with total incredulity "where did you get these?" What was even more perplexing is that she was traveling with a car and driver and oranges are everywhere. In fact, not only oranges, but all kinds of fruits and vegetables are available, in villages, at most country road intersections, from peddlers on bikes, from backs of trucks and even directly from farms.
Lastly, there was an article in one of the Indian newspapers about travel and that "people are searching for meaningful and authentic experiences" and "not conventional luxury travel which is available in almost every destination". They go on to suggest that the key is technology that can connect people who offer for example "authentic" in-home dining experiences, travelling by ox cart, to linking individuals on a web-based service called "withlocals" that includes personally guided tours through the slums of Mumbai, and so on.

I have also been reflecting on suggestions that Alison and/or I should write a book about our travels. While flattering, the last thing I would want to do is write a travelogue as there is already an infinite amount of information on what is out there, from guidebooks, web based organizations like TripAdvisor and the plethora of online booking sites with recommendations, personal blogs and stories and so on.

In fact, what in my mind connects all of the above: not considering a solo hike of the Pacific Crest, a tourist not stopping to buy an orange from a local market, and the oxymoron of using technology to provide "unique" experiences, and me not wanting to write a book on travel, is that most of us are inherent followers and resistant to trying new things. I believe all of the information out there has a counter-intuitive effect. Too much prior information raises expectations and often leads to disappointment: restaurants that do not live up to their billing, the Tower of London being a relative dwarf, and having seen pristine romantic photos of the Taj Mahal, many are disappointed to find it inundated with noisy tourists that obliterate the views etc.

Worse, having reviewed all the sources of information and analyzed places to see, hotels, restaurants, viewed the videos, read the blogs and peer reviews, many conclude "why bother". Why experience the reality of it all, when we can stay comfortably in our own surrounds, in our easy chairs in front of our giant computer/TV screens in ultra HD, ready access to drinks and munchies and eliminate all uncertainties and surprises and all the perceived discomforts of travel?
Yet, I continue to blog, post some photos of where we have been, trying to focus not so much on the details, but on feelings and ideas that travel generates, in the firm belief that with a little bit of planning, practice and using some common sense, that it is possible to have authentic independent experiences. Based on our own travels, I believe that the world is generally safe, that people despite language and cultural differences are friendly and welcoming, and that this is true even in, and perhaps especially in, a country like India, one of the most exotic and rewarding places to travel.

What one seventy year-old fool can do, you can too.

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